Born in 1850 in Indiana, Newell Sanders moved as an adult to Chattanooga at the encouragement of General John T. Wilder. Recognizing the need in the South for reliable farm machinery, Wilder encouraged Sanders to produce plows. His Chattanooga Plow Company was incorporated in 1883.
Sanders soon became one of the business leaders of the rapidly growing city. The Tennessee River Improvement Association, which advocated a general program to develop the Tennessee River and its tributaries, named him president in 1898. He also served as president of the Chattanooga Steamboat Company, as director of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway, and was responsible for the surface railroad that was built on Lookout Mountain.
A politically active Republican, Sanders served on the School Board and on the Board of Alderman, where he became the protégé of fellow Chattanooga Republican Henry Clay Evans. Sanders managed Evans’s controversial 1894 gubernatorial campaign and remained active in Tennessee politics into the twentieth century. In 1912, following the death of U.S. Senator Robert L. Taylor, Governor Ben Hooper appointed Sanders to finish out the term. As a senator, one of his greatest achievements was the enactment of the Interstate Bill, which prohibited the shipment of liquor from wet into dry states. He was a proponent for woman suffrage and his family’s influence made Lookout Mountain the first locality in Tennessee to give women the vote. Sanders ran for the Senate in 1922 but lost to Kenneth McKellar. He continued to be active in Chattanooga’s affairs until his death at age eighty-eight.